Real Change Comes Slowly in the Land of the Mountains
The mission has expanded tremendously since we arrived here in the Spring of 2006. Then, the KMTC was graduating 650 private Soldiers each month into the ranks of the ANA. We are now graduating 2,000 every month. Despite exponential growth, the prioritization of effort goes to the war fighting units, most typically in the South and the East. While it is not impossible to build an Army while it is fighting a war (we have been helping the Afghans to do so for almost six years now and doing the same on a much larger scale back home simultaneously), it is not the preferred method. Given that the Afghan's culture is one built upon "Pashtunwali" a code of conduct for norms of etiquette as well as vengeance, it is not in their cultural norms to say "No" in any way shape or form to a superior. While we in the West are often hailed for the directness of our culture and our ability to respectfully disagree, the Afghans will typically take the path of least resistance if it means eithr losing face or causing a superior to lose face. Thus, when a General comes to visit the training center, it is seen as impolite to explain problems with resources and instead to allow him to focus on the shrubbery surrounding the Mosque.
Why does this have any bearing on the mission here? We have been doing hero's work here in training Soldiers, Noncommissioned Officers and Officers to a high standard, but we have been doing so with resources that are constantly in competition with our war fighting peers.
A Note: I write "We" because I consider "them" to be "us." I refer to my Afghan Colonel colleagues as my Uncle, Hashim and my Big Brother, Aziz. Their fight is my fight and they are my family. We have become that close.
In the past several weeks several of us have been trying to get our arms around this predicament: how to continue to grow the army while maintaining the high level of excellence from the institution without degrading the effort to supply trained officers and NCOs to the war fighting units in the field. As Coalition members, we have done our best to fight for the resources, both human, logistical and capitol, that will make our institution of greater value to the people of Afghanistan. Sometimes in not so polite terms, but usually with enough emphasis to make the point. Simultaneously, the Afghans have realized that now is the hour and have given in to the need to raise such issues to the senior leadership of the Army.
Well in the past two days, this place has been a General Officer Circus. There has been more Afghan Brass than I have ever seen outside of the Ministry of Defense. Enough voices have raised this concern that the leadership is finally making the changes that we have all anticipated for so long.
We expect to gain a considerable amount of human resources in a very short time, to better be able to train the Soldiers to a high standard before moving them into the fight. We have learned that many of the logistical resources (billetting, training areas, mess facilities and others) will be fast-tracked. It is as if the Lunar Eclipse has brought with it an emergent knowledge that not all worthwhile training can come from an "OJT" style of orientation once Soldiers hit the front. Almost as if the austerity we have faced in the past several months has been a necessary Evil, drawing attention to the plight of the Soldiers of KMTC, while the commanders and their garrisons waited patiently until the senior National level leadership was able to draw its own stark conclusions.
Whatever the cause of this turn of events, we here at KMTC, whether Afghan, American, British, French, Canadian, Ghurka, New Zealander, or Polish, are delighted to hear. Perhaps there is more to the Pashtunwali than we can ever understand.
Before arriving here in the land of the Hindu Kush, I learned an old Pashtun Proverb. It roughly translates: "For a hundred years, I waited to extract my vengeance. When I acted, my fathers' cursed my impatience."
For some things, we must wait a long time. Independence is something that will not happen on our timeline. But it is something the Afghans pray for. That and that we will be patient with them.